The rise of Record Store Day, now in its sixth year, is an interesting phenomenon with wide implications.
The idea originated in the US as a reaction to the widespread closure of independently owned record stores due to a number of factors: the general shift towards downloading music from the net or shopping on-line plus the intrusion of supermarkets offering massive discounts.It seemed like the end.
According to figures from Almighty Music Marketing, more than 4,000 record stores in the US (including many record retail chains) closed between 2000 and 2010. They put the 2012 figure for surviving shops at 1,600.
Record Store Day is this year being celebrated by more than 700 indie stores in the US. Record Store Day has also spread to 20 other countries.
In the UK, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association, in 2003 there were 948 indie shops and privately owned small chains selling music. By 2007, this figure had fallen to 408 – a closure rate of one shop every 2.7 days. By 2009, there were just 269 left.
Record Store Day in the UK provided the focus that brought together indie labels, bands and shops in a 24-hour celebration. Participating shops sell specially-released records and host live events. According to Spencer Hickman of Rough Trade: ‘Its like an urban Glastonbury’.
Hickman believes the decline has been halted. In 2010, twelve new stores opened. This he believes is because indie shops have raised their game and found a niche in the market. That niche has a great deal to do with the rise of interest in vinyl records.
Hickman told The Guardian in an April 2011 story by Alexandra Topping headlined ‘Independent record stores increase for the first time in a generation’:
"The fact that we have seen new stores opening this year shows that there are still music lovers who want to buy physical music from people who are just as enthusiastic as they are. There are lots of people who still want music as an art form not just a download."
‘Vinyl has provided an unlikely lifeline in the independent music market. Of the 232 exclusive releases as part of Record Store Day, 220 are on vinyl with just 10 on CD and two on cassette.’
Unable to find more up to date figures at present but in Brighton, my nearest city, we lost two record shops in 2012 – Rounder Records and Borderline. This leaves two shops still operating – The Record Album, a leading specialist in vinyl film soundtracks and Resident.
Thanks to Union Music Store who forwarded me the following information from the ERA which provides some up-to-date statistics.
There will be more than 200 participating stores across the UK and Ireland. In 2012 there were more than 450 exclusive releases; expected to be more than 500 in 2013.
Vinyl sales have been growing for the past five years and in 2012 increased 15.3% over 2011’s sales on the back of 44% increase the previous year.
Years ago someone told me that 1,200 high school kids were given a survey. A question was posed to them: Have you ever been to a stand-alone record shop? The number of kids that answered "yes" was... zero.
Zero? How could that be possible? Then I got realistic and thought to myself, "Can you blame them?" How can record shops (or any shop for that matter) compete with Netflix, TiVo, video games that take months to complete, cable, texting, the Internet, etc. etc? Getting out of your chair at home to experience something in the real world has started to become a rare occurrence, and to a lot of people, an unnecessary one. Why go to a bookstore and get a real book? You can just download it. Why talk to other human beings, discuss different authors, writing styles and influences? Just click your mouse. Well here's what they'll someday learn if they have a soul; there's no romance in a mouse click. There's no beauty in sitting for hours playing video games (anyone proud of that stop reading now and post your opinion in the nearest forum). The screen of an iPhone is convenient, but it’s no comparison to a 70mm showing of a film in a gorgeous theater. The Internet is two-dimensional…helpful and entertaining, but no replacement for face-to-face interaction with a human being. But we all know all of that, right? Well, do we? Maybe we know all that, but so what?
Let's wake each other up.
The world hasn't stopped moving. Out there, people are still talking to each other face-to-face, exchanging ideas and turning each other on. Art houses are showing films, people are drinking coffee and telling tall tales, women and men are confusing each other and record stores are selling discs full of soul that you haven’t felt yet. So why do we choose to hide in our caves and settle for replication? We know better. We should at least. We need to re-educate ourselves about human interaction and the difference between downloading a track on a computer and talking to other people in person and getting turned onto music that you can hold in your hands and share with others. The size, shape, smell, texture and sound of a vinyl record; how do you explain to that teenager who doesn't know that it's a more beautiful musical experience than a mouse click? You get up off your ass, you grab them by the arm and you take them there. You put the record in their hands. You make them drop the needle on the platter. Then they'll know.
Let's wake each other up.
As Record Store Day Ambassador of 2013 I’m proud to help in any way I can to invigorate whoever will listen with the idea that there is beauty and romance in the act of visiting a record shop and getting turned on to something new that could change the way they look at the world, other people, art, and ultimately, themselves.
Let's wake each other up.
‘Record Store Days: From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again’ by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo [Sterling Publishing 2009] is an illustrated history of US record stores, a narrative that ends with a chapter on the foundation of Record Store Day. The book has an intro by REMs Peter Buck
This is the documentary and the book of ‘Last Shop Standing’ by Graham Jones. Graham was one of the founders of Proper Music Distribution and spent 20 years visiting records shops all over the UK. Alarmed by the rapid decline of record retail, he set out to make one-last tour of 50 of his favourite shops, which are recorded in loving detail. The book, published by Proper Music Publishing in 2009, led to the documentary which came out in 2012. It ends on a positive note.
‘Sound It Out’ is a partially crowd-funded documentary about the very last record shop in Teesside, a bleak industrial area in the north-east of England. Directed by Jeanie Finlay it brings home the value of the indie record shop to the local community. Tom who runs the shop has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and obviously cares about his quirky customers, which includes a guy who has seen 400 Status Quo gigs. Its a delight.
See Also: ‘Independent record shops say they are open for business’ by Andrew Glover [BBC News/16th Jan 2013]
‘Independent Record Shops: 10 of the best in Britain’ The Guardian/24 March 2013]